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Page added on May 29, 2011

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Shale Boom in Texas Could Increase U.S. Oil Output

Shale Boom in Texas Could Increase U.S. Oil Output thumbnail

Until last year, the 17-mile stretch of road between this forsaken South Texas village and the county seat of Carrizo Springs was a patchwork of derelict gasoline stations and rusting warehouses.

Now the region is in the hottest new oil play in the country, with giant oil terminals and sprawling RV parks replacing fields of mesquite. More than a dozen companies plan to drill up to 3,000 wells around here in the next 12 months.

The Texas field, known as the Eagle Ford, is just one of about 20 new onshore oil fields that advocates say could collectively increase the nation’s oil output by 25 percent within a decade — without the dangers of drilling in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico or the delicate coastal areas off Alaska.

There is only one catch: the oil from the Eagle Ford and similar fields of tightly packed rock can be extracted only by using hydraulic fracturing, a method that uses a high-pressure mix of water, sand and hazardous chemicals to blast through the rocks to release the oil inside.

The technique, also called fracking, has been widely used in the last decade to unlock vast new fields of natural gas, but drillers only recently figured out how to release large quantities of oil, which flows less easily through rock than gas. As evidence mounts that fracking poses risks to water supplies, the federal government and regulators in various states are considering tighter regulations on it.

The oil industry says any environmental concerns are far outweighed by the economic benefits of pumping previously inaccessible oil from fields that could collectively hold two or three times as much oil as Prudhoe Bay, the Alaskan field that was the last great onshore discovery. The companies estimate that the boom will create more than two million new jobs, directly or indirectly, and bring tens of billions of dollars to the states where the fields are located, which include traditional oil sites like Texas and Oklahoma, industrial stalwarts like Ohio and Michigan and even farm states like Kansas.

“It’s the one thing we have seen in our adult lives that could take us away from imported oil,” said Aubrey McClendon, chief executive of Chesapeake Energy, one of the most aggressive drillers. “What if we have found three of the world’s biggest oil fields in the last three years right here in the U.S.? How transformative could that be for the U.S. economy?”

The oil rush is already transforming this impoverished area of Texas near the Mexican border, doubling real estate values in the last year and filling restaurants and hotels.

“That’s oil money,” said Bert Bell, a truck company manager, pointing to the new pickup truck he bought for his wife after making $525,000 leasing mineral rights around his family’s mobile home. “Oil money just makes life easier.”

Based on the industry’s plans, shale and other “tight rock” fields that now produce about half a million barrels of oil a day will produce up to three million barrels daily by 2020, according to IHS CERA, an energy research firm. Oil companies are investing an estimated $25 billion this year to drill 5,000 new oil wells in tight rock fields, according to Raoul LeBlanc, a senior director at PFC Energy, a consulting firm.

“This is very big and it’s coming on very fast,” said Daniel Yergin, the chairman of IHS CERA. “This is like adding another Venezuela or Kuwait by 2020, except these tight oil fields are in the United States.”

In the most developed shale field, the Bakken field in North Dakota, production has leaped to 400,000 barrels a day today from a trickle four years ago. Experts say it could produce as much as a million barrels a day by the end of the decade.

The Eagle Ford, where the first well was drilled only three years ago, is already producing more than 100,000 barrels a day and could reach 420,000 by 2015, almost as much as Ecuador, according to Bentek Energy, a consultancy.

The shale oil boom comes as production from Prudhoe Bay is declining and drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is being more closely scrutinized after last year’s Deepwater Horizon disaster.

What makes the new fields more remarkable is that they were thought to be virtually valueless only five years ago. “Everyone said the oil molecules are too large to flow in commercial quantities through these low-quality rocks,” said Mark G. Papa, chief executive of EOG Resources.

EOG began quietly buying the rights to thousands of acres in the Bakken and Eagle Ford after an EOG engineer concluded that the techniques used to extract natural gas from shale — fracking, combined with drilling horizontally through layers of rocks — could be used for oil. Chesapeake and a few other independents quickly followed. Now the biggest multinational oil companies, as well as Chinese and Norwegian firms, are investing billions of dollars in the fields.

The new drilling makes economic sense as long as oil prices remain above $60 a barrel, according to oil companies. At current oil prices of about $100 a barrel, shale wells can typically turn a profit within eight months — three times faster than many traditional wells.

But water remains a key issue. In addition to possible contamination of surface and underground water from fracking fluids, the sheer volume of water required poses challenges, especially in South Texas, which faces a severe drought and rapidly diminishing water levels in the local aquifer.

At the rate wells are being drilled, “there’s definitely going to be a problem,” said Bay Laxson, a local water official.

Dave Thompson, regional production superintendent for the oil company SM Energy said the industry knew that water issues were “an Achilles heel.” He said his company was building a system to reuse water in the field.

But unlike Pennsylvania and New York, where fracking for natural gas has produced organized opposition, the oil industry has been mostly welcomed in western and southern states.

Thanks to the drilling boom, the recession bypassed North Dakota entirely. Here in Dimmit County, Tex., the unemployment rate has fallen in half, and sales tax receipts are up 70 percent so far this year, allowing the county to hire more police officers and buy sanitation and road repair equipment.

“In my lifetime, this is the biggest thing I’ve ever seen,” said Jose Gonzalez, 78, a retired teacher and son of migrant farm workers, who leased mineral rights to Chesapeake for $27,000 and sold another plot for $100,000 to a company building an RV park for oil workers. “You can see I’m happy.”

NY Times



5 Comments on "Shale Boom in Texas Could Increase U.S. Oil Output"

  1. Mark hersh on Sun, 29th May 2011 6:17 am 

    So what else is new? None of this Plan A stuff addresses the real problem of how to support an economic system that relies on endless growth with finite resources. This is a band aid on the problem, and we will be hearing soon enough about how there really isn’t as much recoverable oil here as was thought. We keep trading action on a plan for the long range for investing in last gasp strategies.

  2. Rick on Sun, 29th May 2011 7:29 am 

    So if you read this article from the NY Times, all is good. I say BS. And here’s what JHK has to say:

    The global energy predicament really is a crisis, even though nobody is currently lining up at the gasoline pumps. It’s a crisis because peak oil is for real and oil is the primary resource of advanced economies, and there are no miracle rescue remedies (“drill, drill, drill,” shale oil, shale gas). Peak oil means that we can’t increase supply in relation to still-growing demand, which creates disturbances in the energy markets. Peak oil also leads directly to a crisis of capital (money), because a nation (an economy) that can’t get increasing energy “inputs,” can’t create more wealth, can’t generate more loans (debt), and most importantly can’t expect what we’ve come to think of as normal economic growth. This creates further disturbances and distortions in financial markets.

    So, who do we believe? I would say not MSM media, and the NY Times is just that.

    PS – the US oil production peaked in the 1970’s, so now we have a boom again? So, does that mean we can bring the troops home, and stop importing oil from MENA? The way I see it, humanity is now screwed.

  3. DC on Sun, 29th May 2011 8:14 am 

    A Boom?, hardly, more like a blip. An expensive, destructive, dirty blip that wont last very long and wont produce a lot of energy, but lots of destruction.

    See:Northern Alberta for a preview.

  4. new york stock market on Sun, 29th May 2011 9:26 am 

    So what else is new? None of this Plan A stuff addresses the real problem of how to support an economic system that relies on endless growth with finite resources

  5. Jefferson Williams on Mon, 30th May 2011 9:08 am 

    There is a revolution going on in the oil business. We are learning how to extract our hydrocarbons from shales. The Bakken, the Eagle Ford, the Wolf Berry are all production given up for dead that are now producing oil thanks to horizontal drilling and hydro fracs. Oil companies are scouring the planet to find oil and gas in shales. Poland is active. Western Argentina is prospective. Over the next decade we will find out how much new supplies we can expect from these new reserves. Conventional Oil is indeed peaking. But new price points create new opportunities. Time will tell whether total oil production is peaking or just in an unstable transition to new price point and different types of deposits.

    – from a 25 year veteran of the international oil and gas business as a Geologist and a Geophysicist.

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